Europe brac­ing for a tough year

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY AN­GE­LOS STANGOS

Europe is en­ter­ing a new tem­pes­tu­ous phase of po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments and elec­toral tests that will de­ter­mine its fu­ture course. Sun­day’s vic­tory in France’s Repub­li­can pri­mary by Fran­cois Fil­lon – a politician who only ap­peared on the French po­lit­i­cal map a few weeks ago – is a clear sign of the di­rec­tion the con­ti­nent’s po­lit­i­cal pendulum is swing­ing in and also un­der­scores the fact that we should brace for more sur­prises. That said, we should also bear in mind that Fil­lon is the bet­ter choice to con­tain the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Marine Le Pen ahead of the cru­cial gen­eral elec­tions in 2017. Next Sun­day, Europe will have to reckon with the re­sults of a ref­er­en­dum on con­sti­tu­tional re­form in Italy and also with pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Aus­tria. Even though it is dan­ger­ous to make any pre­dic­tions on the ba­sis of pub­lic opin­ion polls – fol­low­ing their re­peated re­cent ex­tra­or­di­nary fail­ures at gaug­ing what the pub­lic is think­ing – it is likely that the “no” vote will pre­vail in the for­mer and that far-right Nor­bert Hofer will win in the lat­ter. If both these pre­dic­tions are cor­rect, then the fu­ture does not look bright at all. In Italy, such a re­sult would likely lead to the col­lapse of the bank­ing sys­tem, and in Aus­tria it would mean hav­ing a far-right na­tion­al­ist and anti-Euro­peanist at the helm. The next step in both coun­tries would be early elec­tions, with Euroskep­tic Beppe Grillo and Hofer’s Free­dom Party wait­ing to step in. The new year holds even more pos­si­ble up­sets if elec­tions in Italy and Aus­tria come on top of those al­ready sched­uled in the Nether­lands, France and Ger­many, where pop­ulist sen­ti­ment is al­ready run­ning high. Given the pres­sure felt across Europe and the West by the work­ing and mid­dle class from mount­ing aus­ter­ity, and es­pe­cially the frus­tra­tion gen­er­ated by the refugee-mi­grant cri­sis, an­a­lysts be­lieve that a per­vad­ing sense of dis­en­chant­ment and frus­tra­tion will be cat­alytic to the fu­ture of the European vi­sion. Af­ter all, im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy was a key fac­tor in Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory in the United States de­spite the fact that the econ­omy there has been on the mend for some years now. It goes with­out say­ing that with na­tion­al­ism gain­ing ever-in­creas­ing ground and Europe be­ing rocked by mul­ti­ple chal­lenges, things do not bode well for coun­tries that can­not sur­vive on their own and de­pend on fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. This of course in­cludes Greece and the sit­u­a­tion will only worsen in the event that Italy’s econ­omy de­te­ri­o­rates fur­ther as it is a big European econ­omy. We can only hope that the gov­ern­ment in Athens is aware of the chal­lenges that lie ahead but the next 12 months will de­ter­mine our own coun­try’s sur­vival.

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